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Parental attributions of controllability as a moderator of the relationship between developmental disability and behaviour problems

Woolfson, Lisa and Taylor, Rhona and Mooney, Lindsay (2011) Parental attributions of controllability as a moderator of the relationship between developmental disability and behaviour problems. Child: Care, Health and Development, 37 (2). pp. 184-194. ISSN 0305-1862

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Children with developmental disabilities present behaviour problems to a greater extent than do typically developing children. Psychosocial models of child development suggest that parental attributions of child and adult controllability could moderate this relationship between child disability status and behaviour. Methods The influence of parental attributions of adult and child controllability on the relationship between problem behaviours and disability was explored in mothers of children with developmental disabilities (DD) (N = 20) with a mean age of 9 years 3 months (SD 24.6 months), and in mothers of typically developing (TD) children (N = 26) with a mean age of 9 years 4 months (standard deviation 23.7 months). The DD group comprised 11 children with autistic spectrum disorders or other communication impairments, three children with Down Syndrome, one with cerebral palsy, one with attentional problems, and four with specific or complex developmental problems. Child behaviour was measured by the Child Behaviour Checklist. Parental attributions were measured using a modified version of the Parent Attribution Test and mothers were divided into higher and lower controllability groups on the basis of their responses on this test. Results Multivariate analysis of variance found significant group ¥ adult controllability interaction effects for 'aggressive behaviour', 'rule-breaking behaviour', as well as borderline significant effects for 'social problems' and 'other problems'. Simple effects analysis suggested that when mothers had lower attributions of adult controllability, there were indeed significantly more problem behaviours in the DD group, but when mothers had attributions of higher adult controllability there was no longer any significant difference in problematic behaviour between the two groups. Conclusions Parental attributions of controllability may moderate the well-established effect of disability on problem behaviour. Implications for parent intervention programmes are discussed